This sermon is number 10 in a series of 23
1, 2 and 3 John - Part 10
by David Legge | Copyright © 2006 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Well we're turning, of course, again to 1 John, the first epistle of John, and this is study number 10 tonight, and the title is 'Brotherly Love'. Our verses for consideration are verses 10 through to 18, so let us begin at verse 10 under this title 'Brotherly Love':
"In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth".
Now as I've told you on previous evenings in this study, particularly in our introductory night way back at the beginning of September, there's not much structure to the first epistle of John, and the themes in it are really spiralled right throughout this book - if you like, in the form of a spiral staircase that tends to widen the further up it goes. So we begin in chapter 1 and chapter 2 of this book with several core cardinal themes that John's going to take right throughout this book as threads, but each time he revisits it in this spiral he adds another aspect of truth to it or another application to it. So we're going to find week after week that we're covering the same ground, but yet we'll have added to us each evening an extra truth or an embellishment of the original truth. Tonight we're looking again at this great subject of love, and of course this is an epistle to do with assurance and how we can know that we have fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ.
We've seen that there are three tests within this book whereby we can know that we are the children of God, we can have assurance. First of all there is the doctrinal test, that we believe the historical gospel that was revealed at the beginning through the incarnation of our Lord Jesus, His death and resurrection, that we believe in the historical Christ and the historical authentic gospel. Then secondly there is the moral test, we cannot claim to be Christ's-ones and live ungodly lives as some were doing in John's day - the moral test. Our life has to live up to what we believe and what Christ taught. But then there is the social test, and that is the one we're looking at tonight again, and that is that of love towards our brothers specifically in Christ - and our sisters of course - and indeed love that we are to show to all men.
The last time we visited this theme was in chapter 2 verses 7 to 17, we're not going to look at those tonight, but it would be good for you to recap at your own leisure and cover that again, what we have already studied in those verses. But this word 'love' is found fifty times within 1 John, and it's remarkable when you consider that 1 John is only a book of five short chapters - but this theme of love is found fifty times right across those five chapters.
I think love, as a concept and indeed as a word, is one that, perhaps, has been more abused and misused than any other in our language, or indeed any world language - especially over the last decade. A lot of people don't really know what love is to define or to experience in their own lives and environment. Sadly, love has come to be described in awful terms, some of the most hateful and perverse practices that are known to man today are now being described as 'love'. Things that God has declared to be an abomination, such as sodomy, homosexuality, something that God has pronounced His judgment and condemnation upon, people are describing as love - 'same-sex love'. So you can see how this great word, beautiful word, has been perverted in our day.
Then there are others who maybe wouldn't stretch their definition that far, but understand love as a sentimental sort of fluffy feeling that's akin to butterflies in the tummy - it's an emotion, purely, it is a tendency. Then there are others who see love as agreeing with everyone, being cordial, harmonious, even with others whose cultures and beliefs perhaps don't agree with yours, but yet you accept them and live and let live - they understand that to be love. Then, as we have already mentioned, many are confused today and just see love as raw gratuitous lust. Love, for many, has become lustfulness.
But if we take all those definitions, modern definitions of love, we can see that there's a trend running right throughout them all, and it is simply this: that love in some shape or form is understood as being something that gives you self-gratification. It's something that blesses you, it's something that gives you a buzz, gives you a worthwhile feeling, a sense of gaining and getting - and certainly any concept of self-sacrifice is foreign to the modern understanding of love. I believe this is seen often in how, sometimes, we casually use the word - even as Christians. I might say: 'I love chocolate' - dropping a hint there! You might say: 'I love golf'. The women might say: 'I love shopping'. What you are describing is that those things make you feel good, you get a measure of self-gratification tucking into a bar of Cadbury's, or spending your husband's money - it feels good! You can almost see it as well in the way that people talk about relationships. You hear people talking today about 'Falling in and out of love' - I don't believe you do either of those two things. Some people say that their marriage or their relationship has broken down irretrievably because they've 'fallen out of love'. Now that is cold language, I believe, which means they aren't getting out of that relationship what they feel is their right. They've chosen no longer to love the person because, one way or another, they're not getting their way any longer.
Now that is not the Bible's definition of love. It is not something that revolves around self or self-gratification, but at the very centre - and, ironically we could say, at the crux ('crux' is the Latin word for 'cross', of course) - there is self-sacrifice as the foundation of everything that can be described as love. Now in ancient Greece, in biblical Greek and ancient Greek, there were three or perhaps four definitions for love. One we know today is that of 'eros' describing sexual love and physical love, and we get the word 'erotic' from it. The Greek god 'Eros' takes a personification of this concept, and 'Aphrodite' and many other pagan gods were personifications of this fleshly, lustful love. Incidentally, you will not find the Greek word 'eros' in the New Testament, because sexual love had been degenerated, through this concept of what sexual love ought to be in Greek society and culture, the Holy Spirit never included this word within the Scriptures. It doesn't mean that God is against sexual union, it just means the concept was totally depraved and perverted.
Then there is the Greek word 'filio' which is found in the New Testament, but it describes an affectionate love that could be among friends and brothers. The word for love that we find in John's first epistle, and indeed many times right throughout the New Testament is the Greek word 'agape'. Now turn with me for a moment to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, to the great passage on love and its definition. Here Paul outlines for us what this agape love really is, and he defines it, and that's the word for love that he uses here. Let me read it in a slightly different translation just to bring it home, what is meant here, verse 4, and you can correspond in your own translation where you are: 'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, it always trusts, it always hopes, it always perseveres. Love never fails'. Now agape love is divine love, it is the love of God, it is what God is in His essence. The mighty fact of the portion that we are studying tonight is that this is the very love that we are called upon as Christians to show to our brothers and sisters in the church. This is the love of Christ.
What we could do, if you keep your Bible open at this passage, 1 Corinthians 13, you could substitute - and I've done this with you before - the word 'love' for 'Christ' or 'Jesus'. 'Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is never proud. Jesus is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered', so on and so forth. But I wonder how many of us could substitute our names for this word 'love'? 'David Legge is patient' - I'd have to stop right away! 'David Legge is kind, he does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud' - but this is in effect what John is saying. What this agape love is, and this agape love is the love of God that has been displayed and manifested for us in Christ, is the love that we ought to show to one another. Again we could remind ourselves of what John said in chapter 2 and verse 6: 'We ought to walk even as he walked', in every aspect, not least showing that great agape love in our lives. Indeed Paul said in Galatians 5:23 that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance - but love is the fruit of the Spirit, the Spirit of God. If He is in us, He will manifest the love of God.
So what John is saying to us again is that here is a test of whether you're a child of God: do you have this love toward your brothers and sisters? If you do it's a good sign that you're saved, if you don't it's a sure sign that you're not. Verse 10: 'In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother'. It's a test of fellowship, it's something that can give us assurance and confidence that we know God. The presence of it should make us know that we have eternal life, but the absence of it proves that we do not have eternal life. So this is the test that we're looking at tonight, the test of brotherly love.
So let's look at the first aspect that John deals with in verses 10 to 15, and it's simply this: a lack of brotherly love proves an absence of eternal life. A lack of brotherly love proves the absence of eternal life. In verse 11 John reminds them of a command he says they had from the beginning: 'This is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another'. Now, of course, we could go back to Deuteronomy 6 and verse 5 where God commanded in the law that all men should love the Lord their God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind and with all their strength. But I believe what John is referring to here, when he talks of 'at the beginning', is the beginning of the New Testament era when the Lord Jesus was incarnated, and we see that that has been his meaning right throughout up to now. The Lord Jesus, remember, sat with His disciples one day and in John chapter 13 He said that He was giving them a commandment, verse 34: 'A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another'. The Lord Jesus was commanding them: 'You see the agape love that I have and am going to display for you at the cross, I want you to show that same love to one another'.
Now right away we see that love is more than an airy fairy feeling, it is more an act of our will rather than a feeling. But John doesn't leave it to conjecture for us to conclude what this love is like, but he says to us in verse 12: 'Do not love as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous'. John gives us, first of all, an illustration of what this love is not, what this love is not like. I'm thinking of the Irish man, and somebody from England stops him at the lights, and says 'Can you tell me the way to Belfast?'. He says: 'Well, if you go up that road and turn right, and then turn left again, come to a roundabout, go straight ahead...that's not where it is'. Sometimes we have to get what a thing is not to understand a little bit more about what it is. Here John is showing us, here is an illustration of the proof of the absence of this love, which proves the absence of this life of God.
The example he gives us is Cain. Now in Genesis 3 we have the story of how fellowship between God and man broke down, and then when we come to Genesis 4 we find that the offshoot of the fellowship between God and man breaking down is that man's fellowship with his fellow man breaks down, and Cain slays Abel. Remember Cain was the first baby ever born, and he becomes a murderer. The problem in Cain's heart was simply jealousy or envy, and someone has said it is the most destructive force in the world to be jealous or envious. Ultimately what it was was rebellion towards God, God wanted an offering and Abel came God's way with a little slain lamb, and Cain came his own way with an offering from the fruit of the ground because he was a farmer. God rejected Cain's offering and accepted Abel's - and out of envy and jealousy, because God never accepted Cain's way, he slew his brother.
Now the false teachers in John's day were advocating that the problem for all mankind is ignorance, they need to learn more, they need to get a special knowledge from God. What John is saying here is that that's not man's chief problem - ignorance - man's chief problem is rebellion and sinfulness in their heart towards God. What John is bringing to us as believers is that we ought not to behave like Cain, who was envious and jealous - because that is a sure sign that the love of God is not residing in our hearts, and ultimately that there is a lack of eternal life. Serious stuff. We have to step back for a moment if we are naive, and say: 'Is this possible? That believers could be envious and jealous of one another?' - is it not? I think there are few things today that have hurt the cause of Christ more than this very thing: jealousy, enviousness among God's people. Remember, that's who John is writing to. Whether it's singers envying other singers, churches envying other churches, preachers envying other preachers, elders envying other elders, deacons of deacons, businessmen in the fellowship envying the success of others who are businessmen, professionals, parents envious of children's success, students envious of others academic success - we could go on and on and on, and we begin to appreciate the seriousness of how this thing can multiply to extremes.
I wonder do we really appreciate the seriousness of how bad envy and jealousy can be among God's people, because John is likening it to murder, the murder of Abel by Cain right at the beginning - that first act of murder. Now that word 'slew' in verse 12 literally could be translated 'to butcher' - 'Do not be like Cain, who was of that wicked one, who butchered or slaughtered' - it literally means 'slaughtered by smashing his throat'. Now, what harm does a wee bit of envy or jealousy do from time to time? Do you see the seriousness? John is likening it to murder, to butchery, to slaughter. This is his illustration, an illustration of a lack of brotherly love that proves an absence of eternal life.
But then he moves on from the illustration to give a bit of an explanation why Cain behaved in this way. At the end of verse 12 we read: 'Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous'. 'He was of that wicked one', at the beginning of verse 12 we see, so there are two things that he is citing to us as an explanation for this lack of brotherly love in Cain's experience. The first thing he gives us is the fact that he is of that wicked one, his parentage. We looked at this in more detail last week, but what John is saying is that this proved that Cain was not of God, this characteristic of lack of love. Indeed, this characteristic is a characteristic of the devil himself. Of course, last week we looked at John 8:44 that the devil was a thief and a murderer from the beginning, and here Cain is following in the footsteps of his spiritual father, committing murder.
That's the explanation for why he behaved in this way, why there was a lack of love. He wasn't a child of God, he was a child of the devil! That's what the Lord said to the Pharisees: 'Ye are of your father, the devil; and the works of your father ye will do'. Not only was there his parentage, but there were his practices. He was not only of the wicked one, but he practised wickedness because his own works were evil and his brother's righteous. We ask the question: did Abel do something on him? Had he wronged him? Was there a reason for Cain slaying Abel? The simple answer is that he was hostile towards Abel for no other reason than that Abel was right with God and Cain was not. That was all the reason Cain needed to hate him and to murder him - a sure sign he wasn't a child of God.
The illustration is Cain, the explanation is his parentage - he was of the wicked one, his practices were wickedness - but thirdly he gives us, like every good preacher, an application. He gives us several reasons how we can know whether or not we are truly a child of God. He says in verse 13: 'Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you'. If you are truly a child of God, the world will hate you. You see, this is not just the mark of one who is of the devil, to hate believers and to slay and murder believers, but it's the mark of this whole unbelieving world. Indeed, if you were to turn to John's gospel and chapter 15, the Lord Jesus Christ spoke originally on this same vein. He says in verse 18: 'If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you'.
Matthew Henry noted well in his commentary on this verse: 'The great serpent himself reigns as the god of this world. Wonder not then that the serpentine world hates and hisses at you who belong to that seed of the woman that is to bruise the serpent's head'. Does the world hate you? I don't mean everybody in the world, but is there a general principle, because of the life that you live and the stand that you take as one of Christ's children, it hates you - that's a sign that you've got God's life in you! But a sure sign that you haven't is that you're going the whole way of the world, and they think you're it's best buddy.
A second application of how we can know we are truly a child of God is found in verse 14, the first part of it: 'We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren' - you love your brothers and your sisters in Christ. First of all, let me point out from the beginning of verse 14 that you can know, and that puts the lie to those who say you can't really know and be sure of your salvation. That's what this epistle is all about, and here he is repeating it again: 'Hereby we can know that we have this eternal life'. That fact is not as difficult to discern as this love in the life of some people who call themselves Christians. You can know that you have eternal life, but it's hard to know as you observe the life of people who profess Christianity whether or not they really love their brothers and sisters. John comes in here speaking of this lack of brotherly love that proves an absence of eternal life, and he says: 'If you don't love your brothers', verse 14 the second part of it, 'you're still dead', for a love for brothers is a sure sign that you've passed from death unto life. But if you don't love your brethren, you're still dead!
This is serious stuff. John is saying that where there is no love there is no life. It doesn't matter whether you apply that fact to the home, or you apply it to the church; if you're in a home or a church where there is no love, it's a sure sign that there's a lack of life - you're dead! Now, our natural spiritual state before we're converted is death. In John chapter 5 the Lord Jesus said that when we believe the Gospel we pass from death unto life, Ephesians 2 verse 1, ye who were once dead in your trespasses and in your sins have now been made alive unto God. In this same epistle in chapter 2 and verse 11 he's already stated that not only are we dead, but we're in the dark: 'He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes'. A loveless man, John is saying, is a lightless man - he can't see his way. A loveless man is not only a lightless man, but he is a lifeless man - and ultimately the only conclusion you can come to is that a man without light and a man without love is a man who is lost!
Now I know, and I agree to differ with some who see this portion of Scripture outlining primarily the two natures of the Christian; but I believe that the sentiments here are too strong, because John, time after time after time, is telling us that these people who have an absence of these characteristics are proving that they do not have the life of God in them - and your old nature can never have the life of God in it. My friend, what John is saying is that if you have a lack of love towards your brothers it proves an absence of eternal life. You're still dead, and then he says in verse 15 at the beginning: 'Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him'. Not only are you still dead if you hate your brother, but you're a murderer like Cain, John says.
Now I know how people react to these types of verses, they'll be saying to themselves: 'I've never shot anybody, or slit anybody's throat' - but what John's doing is he is echoing what the Lord Jesus has already taught in Matthew's gospel and chapter 5 at the Sermon on the Mount - which, incidentally, is as much for us as it is for anybody. Chapter 5 and verse 21: 'Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire'. John is saying the same: that if there is a similar lack of love, it's a sure sign that you do not have eternal life. You might not have used a dagger on anybody, but John is talking about looking daggers at your neighbours, at your friends, at your brothers and sisters in Christ. You may never have shed any blood, you may never have lifted your hand against another, but have you ever snubbed a brother in Christ or a sister? Have you ever scandalised? Have you ever passed on rumour? Have you ever resented another believer in Christ? It may not be the act of murder. What John is getting at and what the Lord Jesus was speaking of in His great sermon was the murderous heart. You don't have to commit the act to have a murderous heart, because God is not as much concerned with the outward appearance as He is with the heart. You see, when the Almighty God of heaven sees hate, do you know what He cries? 'Murder!'. When He sees lust, He cries 'Adultery!' - because lust is the seed of adultery, and hate and anger are the seed of murder. To God, in His holy eyes, hate is the moral equivalent of the murderous act, hate is the embryo of murder.
Now, maybe that's why we don't take it as seriously as murder, but that's why God does. I want to ask you tonight: you call yourself a Christian, do you have a grudge against another brother? Don't misunderstand what I'm saying, I'm not saying that if you've been angry with somebody at some time, or you've fallen out with them, that you're on your way to hell - we all get angry with one another from time to time, like any family, and we all fall out with each other now and again. But just as we were looking at last week, John is talking about those who commit sin and the word is 'a continuous habitual lifestyle of sin', and if you have a continual habitual grudge against some brother or sister in Christ, John says you need to beware. If this is something that you're holding onto, if it is a lifestyle of hate, you need to beware - why? Because, just as the Lord Jesus said again in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 and verse 15, 'If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses'. Oh, we skite over that one very quickly! We're all for free grace, grace is free! I know it's free, but not at any price - forgive your brother, or you'll not be forgiven of God.
A deacon in a church on one occasion had a grudge against another deacon - I don't know whether that ever happens or not these days - but he had even forgotten what the grudge was over. That's often the case, but he was still not going to forgive his brother. The deacon with the grudge sadly took sick, and he was lying on his deathbed, and all the other deacons bar one came to see him. They said: 'Dear brother, you're not going to go into eternity with this grudge in your heart, are you? Do you know that God doesn't want to meet you with a grudge towards another brother, an unforgiveness in your soul - why don't you let us go away from here and tell the other brother deacon that you've forgiven him?'. The deacon said: 'Did the doctor really say that I was going to die?'. They said 'Aye, he did'. He said: 'Well, you go off and tell him that I've forgiven him, but remember: if I get better the deal's off'. Friends, that's the way we behave, isn't it, sometimes, towards our brethren? Even when we do speak words of forgiveness, it's not deep down in our heart. We see that here in this verse, if you look at it again, verse 15, he changes from talking about 'brethren' that he talked about in verse 14 in the plural to talking about the singular 'brother' in verse 15. It's not just a grudge against a group of people, or a denomination, or a sect, it could be a grudge against one individual. My friend, there could be a hundred Christians that you know, and you love 99 of them, and there's just one that you hate - and John says if you hate that one you're in deep spiritual trouble! Now don't shoot me at the door, I'm only the messenger, this is God's word, take it or leave it!
If you don't love your brother, you're still dead, you're a murderer like Cain, and he says at the end of verse 15 you do not possess eternal life. Now that doesn't mean that murderers can't be saved, but you can't be forgiven of any sin of murder whether in your heart or on your hands, and then continue to hate your brother. Remember that the Lord Jesus, when He appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus in Acts chapter 9, what does the Lord Jesus say to Paul, the one who persecuted and chased with murderous breath the children of God? He says: 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?' - are you persecuting a child of God? You're persecuting Christ! Even as a Christian...and it's a sure sign that you don't possess eternal life.
A lack of brotherly love proves an absence of eternal life, he gives us the illustration: Cain. He gives us the explanation: it was Cain's parentage of the wicked one, his practices of wickedness. He gives us the application to us: if we are truly children of God the world will hate us too, we will love our brothers - but if we're not, we'll still be dead in our sins, murderers like Cain, and we don't even possess eternal life no matter what we say.
Then we must move on quickly to the positive aspect of things that John deals with, because he says that demonstrating brotherly love proves the presence of eternal life, verses 16 to 18. He gives us another illustration in contrast to that of Cain, and it is our blessed Lord Jesus. Verse 16: 'Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he', the Lord Jesus Christ, 'laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren'. He gives us the illustration par excellence: Christ is the only source of true agape love, John is saying, and Calvary is the only measure and standard of that love. I don't know whether you've ever noticed, but the New Testament hardly ever mentions the love of God that it does not speak also, or at least the context speaks also of the cross of our Lord Jesus. Take John 3:16 for instance: 'For God so loved the world, that he', what?, 'He gave his only begotten Son'. Galatians 2:20, Paul says: 'I am crucified with Christ: neverthless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me'. Romans 5 and verse 8: 'God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us'. Even in this epistle again another place, as we'll see in subsequent weeks, chapter 4 and verse 10, John says: 'Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins'.
The love of God is epitomised in Christ, perfected in Christ, and the greatest standard and expression and measure of that love is Calvary. Now what is it that gives the love of God at the cross its character? What is it? It is primarily the element of self-sacrifice, that He is dying there for us, not for Himself, for us, for the undeserving, for the iniquitous, the transgressors, the sinful, those totally unworthy. It is voluntarily - He lays His life down, John says, voluntarily. It is vicarious, He lays His life down for us - 'huper' (sp?) is the Greek word, 'on our behalf, in place of, as a substitute'. This, John says, is the supreme definition and illustration of love, and that's the love that we ought to show to one another. So he comes from this great illustration in Christ to the application, and that application is an obligation to everyone who names the name of Christ. Here's what he says: a true child of God will display the love of Christ first of all, verse 16, in laying down their lives for the brethren. Now, we all know well John 3:16, 'For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son', and we've memorised that one - but one I'm sure you have never memorised, let alone exemplified, is 1 John 3:16: 'We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren'. Not a popular verse today!
This expression 'lay down the life' is used many times in John's writings - John 10, 11 and 15. Chapter 10 and verses 11 and 15 talk about the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. He talks later on in John 13, as He lays aside His towel to wash the disciples' feet, in verses 37 to 38 He talks again about laying down His life, and them laying down their lives for each other. Not only did He lay down His human life here on earth, but we go back into the eternity of past and we see in Philippians 2 that here He comes from the right hand of God, and He lays aside the grasping at divine power. He didn't lay aside His attributes, but He thought it not something to be grasped at, and relinquished them voluntarily as He came to earth to live as a man - why? Out of love! Then Paul says: 'Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus'. The supreme act of love, John says in John 15:13, 'Greater love hath no man than this, but that a man lays down his life for his friends'.
You know, this literally happened in the early church, I mean literally laying down their lives for one another. Christians used to be arrested, and they were required to give up the names of their associate Christians, and if they didn't they would suffer and die. The true Christian, this is John's point, at that point would be content to suffer and even die rather than cause suffering or pain or death to his brethren. If you go to Romans 16, you find that Priscilla and Aquila put their neck on the line for the apostle Paul, and he counted it as a great act of love and commends them for it. Can I ask you tonight: do you know many people who would put their lives on the line for you? I don't know many. Would you put your life on the line for someone else? The message of John is: if Jesus loved you enough to die for you, you ought to love your brothers enough to live for them! While self-preservation is the first law of physical life, self-sacrifice is the first law of the spiritual life. How many of us tonight can say, including me:
'Lord, let me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way,
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayers shall be of others.
Others, Lord, yes others,
Let this my motto be:
Let me live for others,
That I may live like Thee'.
Do you know what's nearer the truth? Many want to lay down the lives of their brethren, rather than to lay down their lives for their brethren. A sad fact is that conflicts and battles are what mark many an assembly of God's people in the 21st century. I know they're portrayed as being doctrinal disputes, but most of the time they're just personality struggles fuelled by jealousy, fuelled by envy - and they're singing praise, one on one side of the church and one on the other, and they're sworn enemies as they praise to God with their tongues! John says this ought not to be so, and whether it's a denominational envy, or jealousy, or hate, whether it's pastoral pride or Christian professional competitiveness, it ought not to be! We are to lay down our lives for our brothers, whoever they are and wherever they hang their hat.
If we're to demonstrate brotherly love that proves the presence of eternal life we need to lay down our lives, but we need to meet the known needs of our brothers. Verse 17: 'Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?'. That could be translated, 'If we possess life', 'bios', we get 'biology' from it, that is the life of the world. If you possess things that give you life and sustenance, material possessions, worldly goods, but refuse to share them - the Authorised says 'shut up the bowels of compassion', and that is a literal translation because the bowels, the intestines were understood in the ancient world to be the seat of affections, the way we use the word 'heart' today. We don't talk about the big red thing that beats in our chest, we talk about the seat of our emotions. But literally what he's saying is, if we possess material possessions and shut down our feelings for the need of others and those who are in need, we're not giving real life 'zoa', a different word, to those who are suffering and the love of God cannot be in us.
Now, probably none of us will ever be called to die for someone else, that's very rare these days - at least in Europe. It can only happen once, once we've given our life we haven't got another one to give, but John is saying we are daily called to live for others, to meet known needs. Now here are three things that are necessary: one, you need to have the means to meet a need, so don't get guilty if you don't have the means, you're the one that is in need. Secondly, you have to have your eyes open to see the needs - and I think that's half the problem. People are oblivious to needs that may be around them. Thirdly, you have to have a willingness, once you see the needs and have the means to meet them, to do the deed and help that person. John is only saying what James said in James chapter 2 and verse 15, he gives an example: 'If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone'.
How often does it happen? A brother comes into the meeting, and he's in great need, and somebody pats him on the back and says: 'We'll pray for you brother, the Lord bless you, safe home'. Now I know we don't throw money at everybody coming, sometimes that would harm people and do them less good than it ought - but here's a brother coming into James' church, and he doesn't have any clothes and he doesn't have any shelter, he doesn't have any food and he doesn't have a job. James is saying, just as John, if you close your hand to him, and if you close your home to him, and if you close your heart to him, how does the love of God dwell in you? How can we say the love of God abides in us?
The early church were renowned for their love. The Emperor Hadrian of Rome, in the early second century, called a man called Aristides to the palace to have him describe what Christians really were like. This is what he said, I quote: 'They love one another. They never fail to help widows, they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something they give freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger they take him home and are happy as though he were a real brother. They don't consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Holy Spirit of God'. Not only were they renowned for doctrinal purity, but early Christians were renowned for practical charity. Again the Emperor Julian the Apostate complained during his short reign from AD 361 to 363 that, I quote: 'The impious Galileans', another name for Christians, 'support not only their own poor, but ours as well!'.
If we lived like that today, our Christianity, just like the early church, would be infectious, it would be contagious, it would explode, it would mushroom. Our problem is we live in a day where we have a social welfare state, and it's easy for many Christians to forget and disregard their obligations. If you ask anybody why they work today, they'll say: 'It's to feed my family, my wife and my kids', but they don't even conceive that it is also to feed and supply the family of God - and it is! In Ephesians 4:28 Paul says: 'Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth'.
Demonstrating brotherly love proves the presence of eternal life. We have an obligation to lay down our lives for the brothers, to meet known needs of our brothers, and thirdly and finally: we are to love in action rather than in words alone, verse 18, that's a sure sign that we are the children of God - without it we cannot be. 'My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth'. Two Christians were at an evangelism conference on one occasion. During one of the sessions Larry missed Pete, and at lunch he said: 'I missed you at 10 o'clock, it was a really good session'. Pete said: 'Well, I was talking to the bellboy, I actually led him to the Lord Jesus'. There you have the theory and practice! Where are we there? Do we express sincerity through practicality? Are we all mouth, all talkie-talkie and very little walkie-walkie? Who here tonight doesn't subscribe to the precept that we have to love one another? Sure, it's probably the most popular doctrinal belief of the whole lot. Nobody would fall out with you over that one! Love one another! But how many of us practice it, and practice it like John is propounding? How much does this agape love impact on our personal lives, in our own backyard, when our own back door is closed?
Someone has said: 'To love the world to me is no chore, my big trouble is the man next door'. Maybe it's not the man next door, maybe it's the man or the woman in the next pew. That's your problem, isn't it? My friend, if that is your problem, that is a big problem, a big problem. You need to take that problem to God, because that thing, if it's habitual, if it's a lifestyle with that person, could be telling you that you're out of fellowship with God. Rather you should have in your life the attributes of Christ: when He was reviled, He reviled not again. David Jackman in his commentary, and with this I finish, speaks of one of the loveliest Christians he ever met, Dr Kenneth Moynihan was his name, and for years he was a missionary doctor in Rwanda. His life, it was said, was filled with the fragrance of Christ. David Jackman says that on the few occasions he met him he sensed most powerfully the love of Christ in God's servant. After he died a poem of his was published, and it took the ninefold fruit of the Spirit from the book of Galatians that I mentioned to you at the beginning, and made them a kind of character study of the Lord Jesus - because that's what they are, they're the characteristics of the Lord Jesus Christ within the Christian. Here's how the poem went, listen very carefully:
'Joy is love exalting, and peace is love at rest,
Patience is love enduring in every trial and test.
Gentleness is love yielding to all that is not sin,
Goodness is love in actions that flow from Christ within.
Faith is love's eyes opened, the living Christ to see,
Meekness, love not fighting, but bowed at Calvary.
Temperance is love in harness, and under Christ's control,
For Christ is love in person, and love, Christ in the soul'.
Do you have brotherly love? If you don't, or if you hate your brother, it's a sure sign that you lack eternal life. But if you love your brother, even imperfectly at times, it's a sign that you have the life of God in you - but let us all ask ourselves tonight: how much of that Christlike love is seen in me?
'All His compassion and purity;
O Thou Saviour divine,
All my nature refine,
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me'.
O our Father, help us to understand that we are required and obligated to follow peace with all men, for without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Our Father, help us to realise tonight, even as evangelical Christians, that without works faith is dead. Make us a people who love. Lord, it's not easy, we've all wronged others and there's many a time we've been wronged and we've felt it very keenly. Lord, it's the hardest thing I think, perhaps, in all the Christian life to forgive - but Lord, unless we forgive, You've told us we cannot know fellowship. So we pray tonight that folk in this gathering, that all of us, will be done with grudges, will be done with keeping scores and records of wrongs. Give us that love that is nothing but the love of Jesus, that when He is hated He says 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'. Give us that spirit we pray, and none other, for His name's sake we ask it, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tenth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Brotherly Love" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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